When Lightening Strikes Twice

You can’t expect all of the inevitable surprises that life throws your way.

I’m in the process of being diagnosed with a neurological disease that is expressing itself through producing 30-50 seizures a day; that was possibly caused by my cancer. And I gotta say, even though I’ve already been through a battle with a serious illness, experience doesn’t do much to help the situation. I feel overwhelmed, rejected, and a bit screwed by my genes. I feel hopeful- truly I do. But I also feel tired. Fighting when you’re tired is tougher than you’d expect. It’s funny…that’s the hardest part of all this. How tired I am. Part of me wants to say I’m perfectly strong and am looking at the world with a “bring it on!” attitude, but truthfully, I’m looking at the world with more of a, “can I get a nap really quick?” approach. One thing that experience has taught me, however, is that just because your life seems to stop, the rest of the world does not. And just because it feels like you can’t continue or you can’t go on, doesn’t make that an actual option. So this fight feels a little different. Instead of crusading against the evil that is cancer and building a platform from which to preach on my battle, and attempt at encouraging others- this time I bow my head, pick myself up, avoid drawing attention to myself, and just deal with it. I imagine this is typically how it’s done.

I’m holding on to a belief that maybe soon I’ll get a kick in the ass from the universe that tells me to fight with more enthusiasm (look forward to that entry- I’ll be sure to write about it should such an event occur). But first, can I get a nap really quick? 


Sometimes God Calms the Storm

Sometimes He let’s the storm rage and calms His child.

My dad and I have gone running together since I was in 7th grade. I was clinically obese when I was in middle school and after a year of torment from my peers I was absolutely determined  to lose the weight. So, I started running. Obviously, chugging nearly 200 pounds around on a 5 foot frame wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen very fast. But my dad stuck my side, walked when I needed to walk, ran a little faster than I did -just fast enough to push me, but not discourage me- and talked with me the entire 2 mile trek. By my freshmen year of high school we’d upped our runs to 4-8 miles and  were competing in 5 and 10k’s…where I actually WON a race. We ran all the time and would use the opportunities to talk..a lot. Sometimes we’d have heart to hearts, but more often than not it was just enough time to catch each other up (or if I was in trouble for something then I was just enough time for a lecture).

When I had my first surgery I felt mostly unaffected. But when the surgeon called back that night and said we needed to come back the very next day for an emergency surgery, things changed. I woke up from the second surgery and immediately realized I couldn’t swallow. I just kept choking. I had to adjust the way I held my head so that I could at least semi-regain that ability. I also fell into this weird depression. My grandmother offered to get me something to eat and I yelled at her. 1)because I probably wouldn’t be able to swallow it. And 2) the doctors had already put me on a strict diet to prepare me for the upcoming treatments. Regardless, it was totally out of character, and out of line.  The news of me having cancer was barely 24 hours old. I had no idea what to expect, what to do, where to begin, or how to accept it.

Two days of back to back anesthesia can wreak havoc on a person. I had to stay in the hospital a little longer to help get my body back to normal. After a triumphant walk from my bed to the hall way-an astounding 10 steps that brought my parents,surgeon, nurse, and myself to tears-I was released from the hospital.I was ordered to rest for two weeks.

After the morphine wore off, I did not adjust well to the news of my diagnosis. I was mad. I was confused. I was scared. The only thing I wanted to do was run. I was one week shy of my potential release from resting, one week away from my follow-up visit with the surgeon, one week was all I had to wait. One week was too long. I begged my dad to let me go running. Of course, he said no. But being the only person in my family to ever have cancer, and even the only person my family personally knew who had cancer, they couldn’t relate to what I was going through, and they were a little more likely to be more lenient. They just wanted me to be happy. I cried and insisted he let me go, but that he could come with me, just in case.

We went running. Not a quarter-mile into it I fell from exhaustion. My dad broke my fall and held me while I sobbed. I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Running was supposed to be my release. Running was supposed to be OUR thing. Now cancer had taken even that.

We didn’t run together again until a couple of years later. It started off much like it did when I was in middle school. I was slow. I had to stop and walk. But my dad was still with me stride for stride. To be honest, I think he was (and still does) bracing himself for another fall, just in case.

The World May Be Broken

But Hope is not crazy.

The doctor was talking too fast, in a language that was too unfamiliar. “We’re sorry it’s just…so much worse than we thought.”

Two weeks prior to those 6 life changing words I was getting a routine physical for what would be my senior year of cheerleading. It was just like any other normal physical- except that it wasn’t. They found a large, suspicious growth on my neck. This lead to a whirlwind of tests that ultimately resulted in two emergency surgeries, and a cancer diagnosis.

One week following my second surgery we went back to meet with my surgeon and specialist. We were expecting pretty much a “we got it all, now be on your merry way” kind of talk. But what we got was completely unexpected. Before the surgery we were told that I had a slow-growing cancer. I’d had the tumor for two years and it appeared to have grown to about the size of small orange (no biggie!). During surgery it turned out to be the size of a softball and it extended all the way to the back of my neck (ok…medium biggie). The cancer had also entered all of my lymph nodes and surrounding capillaries. This meant I was vulnerable to the disease spreading exponentially (biggie.). They told me I couldn’t make it. They told me my days were numbered. They told my parents to prepare for the worst. My strong Father, Sergeant McDonald, crumbled into my lap. He sobbed and sobbed. My mom stopped functioning. I’ve never seen someone so distraught. I on the other hand, was a stone. I didn’t cry (until a few days later when I finally got a chance to be alone and cry with out my parents seeing me fall apart. My calm, I felt, was the only thing holding them together.) but I made myself a promise. I would get out of this. I would survive this mess. And I would, starting right then and there, live the best life possible for myself. My local doctors quickly transferred me to M.D. Anderson, the best cancer treatment facility in the world. There I underwent a round of unsuccessful treatments and a third surgery, after which they told me that unfortunately, I’d never be cancer free.

They explained to us that the cancer was just too invasive, and with treatment not being an option I was only left with surgeries, that no matter how numerous, were not able to get all of the cancer cells. However, this did not mean quit. I could be healthy. I could live a normal life (for the most part). I could fulfill my dreams. I would just do all of these things while simultaneously battling cancer.

Enter this mantra: The world may be broken, but hope is not crazy.

I still believe in that promise I made myself. I still believe I have a hope worth holding on to. Not every day is easy. I have plenty of stories to show you that. But step by step, day by day, I get a little closer to realizing that promise. This blog is one of those steps.

Image credits to John Green from tumblr